Ford offers $80 million to fight global authoritarianism


The Ford Foundation will commit $80 million over the next five years to strengthen nonprofits that fight authoritarian rule.

These groups struggle with governments that restrict the right to protest, shackle nonprofits with an avalanche of bureaucratic requirements meant to hamper their effectiveness, and threaten the safety of the people who work for these groups, Helena Hofbauer Balmori, Ford’s director of international civic engagement and government work and director of the new grantmaking effort, announced Tuesday.

“There is a rise of authoritarian tendencies or authoritarian governments,” she said. “The conditions in which social movements and civil society organizations operate are increasingly difficult.

Ford’s pledge, called Weaving Resilience, will not provide grants to individual nonprofits. Instead, it will support virtual “hubs” in 12 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, where civil society groups can receive help to make their organizations stronger.

The hubs will provide advice to groups in their regions who need a guide to navigate labyrinthine regulatory and tax systems, develop plans and publicize their work, and protect themselves from physical and online threats to workers and their families.

The idea behind grants is that supporting nonprofits has no lasting impact and does little to help a wide range of organizations. Through Weaving Resilience, Ford aims to strengthen the civil society “ecosystem” and foster the development of hundreds of vital organizations.

“There is never a shortage of interventions from the side of foundations that make institutional strengthening efforts, but they are all ultimately always insufficient,” she said. “They never take a big picture view and only focus on very specific issues, as if those issues are enough to create resilience for the organization. The piecemeal approach to institutional strengthening has not been effective.

Hofbauer Balori hopes that other foundations will join us. The Weaving Resilience Mexico hub, which will provide services to organizations in Central America and Mexico, has attracted $11.6 million in support, including Ford’s commitment and planned grants from seven other foundations, including the Foundation for a Just Society and the Kellogg, Open Society and Packard foundations.

The grants come as democracy and freedom of expression seem to be running out of steam across the world. Basic freedoms declined in 2021 for the 16th consecutive year, according to the Freedom in the World report by Freedom House, a group that works to promote democracy around the world.

The report found that 38% of the world’s population live in countries that are “not free”, a designation based on a series of criteria including government corruption, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and an electoral process. functional.

“The trajectory has been clearly negative,” says Christopher Walker, vice president for studies and analysis at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Walker, who spoke ahead of the announcement of Ford’s commitment, said philanthropy could play a vital role in turning the tide.

“Philanthropy can be positioned to spur innovation in ways that other resources might not be able to,” he said, “especially when challenges and threats are growing and changing at a rapid pace. so fast”.

Each hub will design its own strategy. Two organizations, Compartamos con Colombia, link nonprofits to a network of lawyers, consultants and bankers, and Dejusticia, a legal and civil rights group, will manage the effort in the Colombian region. In its first year, the hub will offer its services to Colombian nonprofits, then expand to Peru and Venezuela. Over the next few years, the two organizations together hope to provide services to approximately 200 groups in the region.

During decades of internal conflict, Colombian nonprofits have been stigmatized as being linked to left-wing guerrilla groups, says Vivian Newman Pont, executive director of Dejusticia. Following the country’s peace accord in 2016 and the June election of Gustavo Petro, the country’s first left-wing leader, nonprofits have had some breathing room, Newman Pont said.

But despite the political shift, nonprofits in Colombia have a lot of needs, she says. Many are in dire financial straits after years of struggle. Many have lost leaders who joined the new administration. The Petro administration is not immune to relapse into authoritarianism, said Newman Pont, and environmental and indigenous leaders remain under threat of assassination.

The government has given ‘space’ to nonprofits, but Newman Pont fears that social justice and democracy organizations will lose some of their independence because they don’t want to be seen contradicting the new government .

“It’s a new space and we have to take advantage of it,” she said. “We feel stronger; we feel more listened to. And we have to use it because now is the time to hope.

A big problem with foundation support from US donors, said Newman Pont, is that these donations are usually earmarked for specific purposes. When new needs arise, civil society groups often feel compelled to spend their grants as designed so that they can maintain a relationship with a funder, rather than using the funds to meet new needs. new challenges.

Ford’s commitment, Hofbauer Balmori said, seeks to break that cycle. The groups that will decide how best to use the money are from the area and have a better sense of emerging needs than a New York grantmaker, she said.

“They are grounded in the political context of those countries and understand the trends that are unfolding.”

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This article was provided to The Associated Press by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Alex Daniels is a senior reporter at the Chronicle. Email: [email protected] The AP and the Chronicle are supported by the Lilly Endowment for coverage of philanthropy and nonprofit organizations. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropic coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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